Ashok Nehru, 72
Motilal Nehru and my great-grandfather Nandlal were brothers, which makes me Jawaharlal’s Nehru’s grand nephew. Apart from breakfasts at Teen Murti Bhavan, I have a few other memories of Panditji. As a child, I remember listening to his famous Tryst with Destiny speech on the radio on the midnight of 15 August 1947. I also recall being at the Republic Day parades from 1952 to 1957 at Rajpath during my teens and Panditji—who had to be there ahead of the president’s arrival—coming down to chat with us kids who would be seated on dhurries in front of the stands.
Fan club: Nehru on a visit to rural Uttar Pradesh in 1953. Dinodia
When I was 14, I was coming back to India from the US, where my father was posted, to attend boarding school. My parents wrote to Panditji saying that I would like to say hello to him. He got his private secretary to call me and I went to the PM’s house. Nehru asked me if I enjoyed a swim. I said yes. “Come along with me. We will go for a swim together,” he said. We went to the swimming pool at Rashtrapati Bhavan—he was 62 at the time and my recollection of him is as a vigorous and warm person.
Much later, after I had graduated from college and had started working in Chennai, I broke my leg in a scooter mishap and ended on the hospital bed. He was in town on work and visited me in hospital. When he found out that I was to fly to Delhi the next day, he said, “Come along in my plane.” My mother gave her assent, but on the condition that we would pay for the ticket. When the plane landed in Delhi, I was the last person to come out. He was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.
Satya Sheel, 56
Purushottam Das Tandon, president of the Congress party in the 1950s, was a friend of my grandfather Achintya Ram, a freedom fighter and member of the Constituent Assembly. Tandonji would stay with us at our residence at 2, Telegraph Lane in Delhi and Nehruji would come to visit him. On occasion, a black Morris car with a small red bulb at the head of the bonnet, near the legend, would come to a stop, and the prime minister would jump out from the back. We drank tea at home but my grandfather knew that Panditiji preferred coffee, so when he came coffee would be served—just like tea—in kulhads (earthen cups). They would all sit on the gaddas (mattresses) on the floor and sip coffee.
Even as children we were in awe of him. No matter how serious the situation, he would address the concerns of a child—I saw this not once but many times. Once, during the Republic Day parade, he picked up my little brother first. At which point I started howling because he had ignored me, and my brother—who was just a baby—started howling too because a stranger had picked him up.
He was naturally attentive to kids. My only memory of having been over to Teen Murti Bhavan for breakfast once is that I was fussed over. Another time we went to Teen Murti Bhavan, he received us at the main door, called me out the first thing, opened a box next to a table and gave me two sweets. Once, later, he asked me to accompany him in his car to his office in South Block. Once there, he first asked for defence minister Krishna Menon and then directed someone, “Baba ko biscuit do (Give the boy some biscuits).” I got two ginger biscuits.
Even as a child I noticed that after the Sino-Indian war of 1962, he was looking preoccupied. But I recall how courteous he was to my mother even at that time. Today, I am not an admirer of him as a politician but he was a great statesman who stood head and shoulders ahead of his peers.